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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Lately I have also been feeling a lot of fear. I have big changes coming up in my life (I’m moving to another state, starting graduate school, planning a wedding) and in total honesty I am terrified. I don’t like not knowing what is going to happen and I have insane, irrational, thoughts that swirl around in my head.

But I practice letting go of my fear; I have to practice letting it go. When I let go of it and trust that things will be ok (no matter what happens) then I am no longer frozen by my fear and I can go back to living my life one day at a time. I can focus on what is in front of me. I do this in many ways: I pray. I repeat to myself that my worry is only adding to my stress (it does me no good to worry about something I can’t change). I talk with friends and family. I distract myself by doing other things. I make sure to sleep enough. I take time to do things for me. And when none of those work I accept that at this point I am feeling stressed and that is ok.

Acceptance is one of the great challenges of recovery. I spent so many years trying to manipulate the world and make life go the way I want and it only left me despairing in my own misery. Acceptance is letting go. In letting go I drop my arms to my sides, let out a deep breath, and give up the fight. I give up the fight when I refuse to engage with my addictions in my head; I give up when I talk with others and air out the craziness in my head. I let go when I take care of myself. And I let go when I sit in my discomfort and refuse to let it upset my world.

Now, I am not advocating giving up on life when things are crappy. We should always be working to improve our situation, but we can’t be fighting the world. Working and fighting are different. Working involves accepting that things aren’t going to work out the way we planned them (necessarily), but we keep trying to improve our life in relation to those around us. And sometimes our best left in relation to others means that we don’t get what we want or that we have to accept our own discomfort for the betterment of others.

In recovery I learn to let go. I learn to accept. I learn that just because I am uncomfortable doesn’t mean I have to make myself crazy trying to get comfortable. Sometimes we just have to be uncomfortable until things settle down around us.

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I was always the kid who had to touch the burner to see if it was hot. The only way I’ve ever learned what not to do is by doing it first. And this didn’t change when I came into recovery. I, obviously, stopped doing the most detrimental things to myself but I still fumbled around a lot and acted quite immature. I look back now and am stunned at my naivete back then (and I’m sure this will happen again in the future when I look back to now). I knew so little about life and how to live it.

I worked very hard to trust that things were working out as they should and continue to do this today. This is definitely easier when things are going well, but is just as important (if not more) when things aren’t going well. And what I’ve noticed in my meager years of recovery is that everything is part of building up my life. I had to make the mistakes I did in early recovery to learn that I didn’t want to go that route again. The trick I have to keep in mind is to alter my next adventure so that the same thing doesn’t happen and I touch that burner again. Building up a life that has been all but obliterated is hard, slow, work. I make mistakes today that others my age probably think are ridiculous, but the only way I know they are a wrong turn, is by taking it.

Life has become my little science experiment. When one hypothesis yields a poor result then I have to alter a variable and try it again. I might not get it right that time either, but all I can do is repeat the process until I start getting closer to the goal.

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To put it simply, I need help from others because I can’t tell the difference between the insanity in my head and common sense. That isn’t to say that I haven’t learned a great deal about how to tell when I’m thinking crazy, but when it comes right down to it I think a LOT of crazy things and I believe them!

I have definitely learned that I can’t drink or use drugs “socially” or “in moderation,” so no matter what reasons my head gives me to the contrary I am able to ignore it. I have also learned that what I see in the mirror isn’t what is really there; my head likes to tell me I’m the size of a small country, but I know that isn’t true no matter how convincing my head makes it sound.

But there are other areas that are much less lucid. Areas that involve having relationships with people, handling stress, coping with anxiety, jobs… well, this could all be summed up as LIFE. These are areas that I generally suck at. The reasons *why* I suck at them could be many… mental illness, poorly developed social skills, trauma, character defects, whatever. And compounding my sucking at them is the fact that it is a regular old looney bin up in my head.

I think crazy things. And thinking those crazy things used to get me in a lot of trouble (whether it was internal or external trouble). In fact I would up an alcoholic and with an eating disorder… obviously following my crazy head wasn’t working so well. Thus I need everyone around me to keep my thoughts in check. When I start to “interpret” the “facts” of my life things usually get distorted so I have to ask someone about it. I relay the thoughts in my head to my sponsor, a close friend, my fiancé or my family and see what they make of it. We then talk it through and I am much more able to make a better decision.

And I am happy to report that the further into recovery I go the better I get at mitigating the craziness. Early on I was very dependent on those around me; often I asked people for reality checks multiple times a day… “Sponsor, remind me again why I can’t drink” “Friend, what does ‘Boy A’ mean when he says ‘X’?” “Fiance, do I really look as fat as I feel?”

Thankfully I don’t often have to check in about most of that stuff anymore, but the fact remains that I am still crazy and I will always need help staying out of that craziness. And I plan to continue asking for help. I need YOU and everyone else around me to mollify my craziness. So thank you in advance for keeping me out of my head.

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I Triple Dog Dare You

I’ve been debating recently on whether I was willing to start writing on-line again… you see, when I was in the thick of things I was a prolific writer in my ‘online journal.’ I thought that I was destined to explicate the experiences of one who was trapped in the throes of an eating disorder and (unbeknownst to me at the time) addiction/alcoholism. At the time I would have sworn to you that the entries I wrote would enlighten the world about what these things really do to the body and psyche of the sufferer. Later, in recovery, I went back and re-read my journal; sadly I didn’t find much, if anything, that could be considered revolutionary in depicting these demons to someone who hasn’t experienced them… and really what it had turned into was 3 or 4 years of whining.

Ultimately, the journal said the same thing day-in and day-out… and that is exactly what an eating disorder and addiction are; a perpetual cycle of the same thoughts bringing about the same actions that lead to the same results which then bring about the same thoughts and so on and so on. I look at it as an ever-winding helix that is constantly folding back in on itself. The external situations may change, the physical symptoms may change and even the coping mechanisms themselves may change (switching drugs, fluctuations between eating disorder behaviors and drug/alcohol use, moving from restricting food to bingeing and purging, etc). But the montage that is playing in the person’s head is always saying the same thing… “You’re worthless, you ruin everything and you deserve everything bad that happens to you. BUT if you do ‘x, y, or z’ then you will feel better. Then you will have some control over your life. THEN things will be ok.”

I don’t have as much time clean as some people do and I have more time than others. And I am the first to admit that I don’t know everything about recovery and all I can talk about is what has worked for me and what I have learned in the process. So that is my new mission with writing down my thoughts and why I did finally make the decision to begin a new “blog” or “journal” or whatever you want to call it. I want to start thinking through and writing about the lessons I have learned in recovery. I know that getting these thoughts out will help me and just maybe something will make sense to someone else (if, in fact, people end up reading it). But I do not claim to be a professional and cannot tell others what to do or not to do. I have no formal training in the treatment of either chemical dependency or eating disorders… I was a philosophy and religion major for goodness’ sake.

So, to start out I want to make a couple clarifications…

  1. I follow a 12-Step program and I’m not going to make any apologies for it. I began by using the 12 Steps for my eating disorder after multiple failed treatment attempts which quickly brought to the surface my need to look at my chemical dependency and use them for that (yes, most people do the AA/NA thing first and then apply it to others. But I don’t generally take the route others do). The 12-Steps have not been the only thing that has saved my life, but I am eternally indebted to the new way of living/thinking that it brought me. So while I will try to keep my thoughts as neutral as possible in sensitive areas (e.g. the ‘higher power’ or ‘god’ thing), they will inevitably creep in from time to time. And (gasp!) I may even make some posts directly about them.
  2. To save time I will often to refer to both my chemical dependency and eating disorder as my “addiction.” I firmly believe they are two faces of the same coin. Maybe that will come through in what I say, maybe it won’t, but that is what I believe and treating them this way has helped me recover.
  3. I’ll also sometimes refer to them as “destructive coping mechanisms,” which I also believe they are. I used drugs/alcohol/food to ignore my emotions and to deal with a life that felt too scary and too painful to face.
  4. There will be other language that I will probably use that might be community-specific; that is, I may use addiction-community language or eating disorder-community language. Two  examples: “symptom use”: meaning engaging in eating disorder behaviors (restricting, over exercising, bingeing, purging, laxatives, etc.). “war stories” or “drunkalog”: meaning stories that glorify the addiction. Examples would be talking about specific (stupid) things I did or went through with the intent of showing how “much” of an addict I was. There will inevitably be more, but those are the ones I can think of off the bat.
  5. Regarding the previous bullet, I will also fairly frequently mix language that is used in the addiction community and relate it to my eating disorder. Mainly this is due to the prolific amount of verbage for chem dep language and the still-developing terminology for eating disorders.
  6. Philosophy, spirituality, and music have been a big part of my recovery. As such I will quote, reference, or take themes from them. I don’t ascribe to a particular faith, but have found elements from many which make sense to me. I also don’t listen to a specific type of music or focus on one type of philosophy, so one day you may get a line from Fiona Apple or Lupe Fiasco and the next day I’ll be quoting Kierkegaard or Plato. In all cases I will make my best effort to give credit where credit is due.

That, I guess, brings me to the starting point and the most apparent lesson I’ve learned in recovery. I mentioned about how addictions always manifest as an unchanging spiral of misery; things never change. I was always stuck in a hole of depression and while I made attempts to change things (i.e. new destructive coping patterns that inevitably led to the same dismal results), I never actually wanted to change because that was terrifying. Recovery, however, is all about change. In fact, LIFE is about change.

All the thinking about how I was going to make my life better did me absolutely no good. Still today when I find myself wallowing in whatever is bothering me I can’t think my way out of it (and my sponsor is always quick to remind me of this when I forget it); I have to actually get up off my butt and do something different so that I can have different results. And yes, that change scares the living hell out of me. But I’ve found that after the initial shock I generally settle into a new rhythm which brings different results than the last time. That doesn’t mean I can expect that things will miraculously be absolutely perfect when I choose to do things differently. Actually, I often times mess up and make the wrong decision which can end in a new mess that I’ve created for myself. The point is, though, that I won’t ever figure out the right way if I don’t make any changes.

In order to recover I had to stop using drugs and alcohol and I had to stop using eating disorder symptoms. It seems simple, but the concept seemed entirely foreign at the time. I wanted desperately to feel better, but I couldn’t imagine not having those coping mechanisms to cocoon me through each day. But, Surprise! I’m still here today without my addictions getting in the way and I couldn’t be happier. One of the most cliché slogans in AA is that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results;” for a long time I thought I was making changes because I was ‘switching things up.’ I’d change the drug I was using, I’d stop restricting food and instead exercise multiple times a day, etc… But none of those were actual changes. I was doing the same thing over and over and over expecting that one day I would magically wake up and be able to drink like normal people and be able to control food and my body. The problem was that I wasn’t making real changes.

To make real changes I had to change BOTH my thinking and my behavior simultaneously. Up until then I was changing only one or the other… I’d change my thinking (“I will not drink today”) but not my action (I’d end up at the liquor store) or I’d change my behavior (I did not binge/purge today) but not my thinking (I still hate myself and think I’m fat); thus ending up with the same results… drunk/high and using symptoms.

More recently I changed jobs. I was previously stuck in a situation with an emotionally abusive/micromanager/bully of a boss for over a year. Most weeks I had more days where I cried at work than days where I didn’t. Everyone in our department felt this and people started dropping off like flies. I knew I had to get out of there… 9 months of looking for a new job and I finally got an offer at the beginning of February. I was ecstatic! Then the last few days at my job started winding down and I began to get nervous, but I still knew I was doing the right thing. Then came the first week of the new job… 3 days in and I almost had myself convinced that I should go back to my old job. My new job is great, but change is scary. At my last job I knew what to expect, at the very least. This new job, the new environment, leaving my co-workers (we had all bonded very tightly under the tyranny of the boss), everything was too much. I don’t like making transitions. BUT if I hadn’t done it then I would still be miserable (and possibly single – my boyfriend was damn tired of hearing me complain).

Change is uncomfortable. Change is scary. Change opens up the option for failure… but life is about change, so in order to live I have to accept all those things and take them for what they are. Discomfort and Fear are not terminal. Failure will not cause the world to implode. So, if I’m unhappy with something in my life that is within my power to change, why not give it a try and see what happens? (I triple dog dare you to do it!)

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